"It’s always DOOMSDAY in my world": Trump's desperation is both comical and dangerous

Trump's recent fundraising emails are ludicrous, grotesque and apocalyptic. Can he keep that up for six months?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 7, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing for the day at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 6, 2024. (JULIA NIKHINSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing for the day at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 6, 2024. (JULIA NIKHINSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The first weeks of Donald Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan have not gone well for the former president. Key prosecution witnesses such as former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, attorney Keith Davidson and onetime White House aide Hope Hicks have painted a damning portrait of Trump's plot to hide embarrassing information from the public, with the evident goal of impacting the 2016 election. At this point, it would require some arcane or technical point of law or jury nullification (thanks, perhaps to one or more MAGA-friendly jurors) to save him from being convicted.

In response, Trump and his various spokespeople and agents are trying to find new ways to make their hyperbolic messages to the MAGA faithful ever more extreme and graphic. The goal of such a propaganda strategy is to manipulate fear and other negative emotions in order to tie Trump’s followers even more closely to him, in what is already a cult-like relationship.

In this dynamic, Trump’s feelings of peril are shared by his die-hard followers. By implication, those negative feelings can encourage or legitimate violence as the natural and reasonable response to a (nonexistent) existential threat. Of course, it is only Trump who is in personal jeopardy because of his reckless and unprincipled behavior, not his millions of followers.

In a recent commentary for Salon, I described Trump’s horror-movie strategy as

a relentless onslaught designed to create fear and terror about a doomed and ruined America that is being destroyed from within by “vermin,” i.e., the Democrats, liberals, nonwhite people, Muslims, George Soros, the Deep State, “woke,” “Black Lives Matter,” Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, those who are not white Christians, the evil “news media” [and other] nebulous forces [who aim] to turn the country into a Stalinist-Maoist-Communist hellhole ... where the MAGA people, "real Americans” (meaning white people) and their Dear Leader Trump will be imprisoned.

Even by these standards, Trump’s most recent fundraising emails are ghoulish. Last week, Trump told his followers that his “enemies,” such as the “corrupt judges” leading the “witch hunt” against him, literally want to “cut out” his tongue:


It’s always DOOMSDAY in my world because CORRUPT JUDGES won’t STOP THE WITCH HUNT!

With another FALSE CONVICTION under my belt, I need to know if you still support me! YES or NO


They’d even cut out my tongue if it meant the death of MAGA.

But I know their DIRTY TRICKS would never work on you, Friend.

So I need your help to SHUT THEM DOWN right now.

You haven't missed any important headlines: Trump has not in fact been convicted of anything, to this point. But amplifying and repeating the purported threat is a key element of a successful propaganda or disinformation campaign. Trump and his messengers are connecting “Doomsday,” “the death of MAGA” and grotesque images of torture to trigger the fear centers of the brain. Social psychologists and other scientific experts have repeatedly found that the brain structures and thought processes of conservative-authoritarians are focused on and aroused by fear and negative thoughts. Other research has shown that such people are also more vulnerable to death anxiety than are liberals and moderates.

Cognitive linguist and philosopher George Lakoff has proposed that the divergent political personalities of conservatives and liberals are deeply rooted in family structure, parenting and perceptions of morality and the common good. In a 2003 interview, Lakoff explained his view that "the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family" and the assumption "that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that":

On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

Conservatives, on the other hand, follow a "strict father model," in Lakoff's view, rooted in an assumption "that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good":

The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world. [my emphasis added]

The MAGAverse and TrumpWorld are still fueled by a profound fear of Barack Obama, as bizarre as that may seem to those outside their worldview. For Trumpists and others on the American or global far right, Obama appears as the human and symbolic embodiment of everything they despise about multiracial pluralistic democracy, and the "elites" they perceive as controlling it. Consider this recent Trump fundraising email:


The Obama-Biden Cartel is reuniting to take down MAGA & we only have 24 HOURS LEFT to put together a HISTORIC response!

Democrats are SO DESPERATE they’re even turning to HOLLYWOOD HAS-BEENS like George Clooney to prop up their FAILING campaign.

But I have one thing that NO AMOUNT OF DIRTY DOLLARS could possibly buy - THE ENDLESS LOVE AND SUPPORT of Patriotic Americans like YOU!

Trump's campaign struck a similar theme, in even more alarmist terms, a few days later:  


Barack Obama, George Clooney, and the communist Hollywood “elite” just announced a star-studded fundraiser to TAKE ME OUT!


My campaign is powered by True Trump Republicans like YOU — not the “elite” liberals propping up the failed Biden regime.

A slightly different tack emerges in another recent email, carrying the all-caps heading "JOE BIDEN THINKS YOU'RE AN IDIOT!": 

He actually believes his ENDLESS SHAM TRIALS would cause YOU to abandon ME!

Can you believe it, Friend? He must be DEMENTED!

Not only are we going to prove him WRONG, we’re going to deliver him a BONE-CRUSHING DEFEAT he’ll never forget!

So before the day ends, I’m calling on EVERY SINGLE TRUMP PATRIOT to chip in and say: I WILL ALWAYS LOVE PRESIDENT TRUMP!

Needless to say, in the real world, President Biden has if anything been overly patient and generous with those who support Trump and the MAGA movement, and has tried to reach out to them repeatedly in a (mostly failed) attempt to find common ground. 

Trump’s horror politics may seem like a new and profoundly disturbing twist, but in fact the American right spent decades preparing the political battlefield, emotionally conditioning and training its public to be respond to false narratives of fear, terror, death and destruction. While the initial goal may not have explicitly been to end pluralistic, multiracial democracy and replace it with a white supremacist pseudo-democracy or "managed democracy," that possibility was always present. Trump, the MAGA movement and their gangster-capitalist allies are taking advantage of the fact that tens of millions of Americans — mostly but not entirely white Americans — have been primed for authoritarian “leadership.”  In that sense and many others, the Age of Trump and the crisis of democracy are symptoms, not causes, of deeper and older structural, cultural, political and economic problems.

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But Trump and his allies now have a crucial fork in the road. Trump’s criminal trials — and his resulting personal jeopardy — will only get worse for the foreseeable future, and the 2024 presidential election is now less than six months away. Time is running out, and their messaging of terror, doom and dread seems increasingly unregulated. If they frighten their own supporters too badly, they may become numb and assume all is lost. Conversely, dialing down the existential terror risks dampening the enthusiasm of the MAGA faithful for what they've been told is a final battle against “the socialist, Marxist left” as supposedly represented by Biden and the Democrats. The solution is for Donald Trump and his agents to create an optimal level of constant discomfort and fear that they can trigger in some sort of crescendo in the weeks and days before Election Day.   

But we shouldn't underestimate Donald Trump's ability to leverage negative emotions to serve his purposes. As others have observed, the worse things get in America, the better it is for Trump's campaign to seize dictatorial power and smother American's multiracial pluralistic democracy. If we lived in a healthy society, things clearly wouldn't work that way. But we do not. Thus, the perverse incentive(s) and moral hazard driving Donald Trump and the American right-wing’s decades of horror politics and their collective attempts to create a living nightmare for the American people. 

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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